Saturday, July 19, 2008

Chile, Day 5: Copiapo supermercado

Today was a cold day. I don't mean just 'cool'. Sunrise started out sunny but within moments, it seemed, a thick fog settled in and held the cold in close. In our seminar room this morning we had the laptop and projector running and people huddled around the equipment trying to warm their hands over the ventilation fans. It was SO cold, in fact, that Cindy left the room and came back with a heater. A space heater! I wasn't sure they existed in Copiapo.

We spent the work day moving the curriculum forward. Some aspects of curriculum development are fairly mechanical and no doubt the same everywhere: how many instructional hours do you have to work with? How many courses? How many hours per course? Maximum, minimum? How should the courses be weighted, time-wise? Is 32 hours of instruction per week enough? Too much? We spent some quality time on scheduling and hardly needed the translator.

My time after work is developing a bit of a routine. I return to the hotel and immediately turn the wall heater up full blast. Did I mention that I discovered a wall heater in my room? It is very thin and almost flush with the wall and painted the same colour so I didn't notice it at first. It doesn't produce much heat but no doubt it helps. Then I go out for a walk around the plaza, around the streets, check out the dogs and browse the shops. Then I go to the supermarket and get a bite to eat.

A lot of people (is it mainly women?) wonder what the supermarkets are like in foreign places. If you were somehow led, blindfolded, and released into a Copiapo supermarket, it might take you a few moments to notice that you were not in Canada. But very soon it would occur to you that this store is busy. It is like a Canadian supermarket on the Saturday before Christmas, except these supermarkets are this crowded ALL THE TIME. And you might soon notice that the booze is mixed right in with the groceries. There are a few aisles of alcoholic beverages but you also find stray bottles of whiskey or wine or whatever discarded among the breakfast cereals or bananas or baby foods. You might wonder why the fresh vegetables are so skimpy in both variety and quantity and don't look so healthy. You might really start to suspect something when you saw the display of fresh fat aloe vera leaves, packaged in onion-bags with directions on how to cook them for food or medicinal purposes. Yogurt is a big thing here and the yogurt aisle is huge. Many flavours are familiar but some are not: there's blackberry (blackberry, it seems, is a very popular flavour for a lot of things), chocolate & orange, walnut, and aloe vera flavours too. I honestly had no idea that aloe vera even had a flavour. And finally you might notice that the food is generally packaged less heavily and in smaller quantities than at home. The cost of food is about half (or less) of what a similar item would cost at home, except for the wine which is cheaper still: it's easy to find something for not much more than $1 per liter. Good stuff, too.

The sun goes down around 6 and it gets dark quite quickly. I return to the hotel room (which, by this time, has warmed up a bit), unpack my food purchases and surf for something in English on the TV. After struggling with Spanish all day I'm grateful to rest my ears.

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